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Aquaponic Gardening: What is it?


Photo Courtesy of Backyard Aquaponics

What is Aquaponics and why should you incorporate it into your preparedness plans?

Aquaponics is the practice of raising fish and vegetables together in a symbiotic relationship. In other words, it is the practice of raising fish in a tank and using the fish waste to fertilize the plants. The way it works is the water from the fish tank is pumped through the grow beds, where the beneficial bacteria convert the ammonia from the fish water into nitrites and then into nitrates that the plants feed on. The plants, in turn, filter out the ammonia, which is harmful to the fish; the water is then pumped back into the tank as clean, aerated water.

Aquaponics can be done on any scale from a small aquarium with just a few goldfish and herbs for one person, to a large commercial greenhouse producing enough fish and vegetables for an entire community. So whether you are in a small apartment or a greenhouse setting, Aquaponics can be done.

Why would I consider Aquaponics?

It is very simple; any additional FRESH food you can put into your diet—now or in an emergency—will help your mood, provide great nutrition, and give you a feeling of accomplishment. Don't get me wrong—having a supply of storage foods is your best bet to survive an emergency. But in an extended emergency, not having to use up all of your supplies, or accidentally running out of them, is crucial.What do you do when they are gone? Being self-sufficient in growing your own food and supplying your own meat is an excellent back up plan. Preserving food that you have grown yourself is also a great way to know exactly what is in your meals. And, I might add, it is a wonderful activity to get the whole family involved in. With Aquaponics, you can grow almost anything that you would grow in a conventional garden, too. Even some root crops such as carrots and radishes can be grown in an Aquaponics system.

Most Aquaponics setups are very simple and fairly low-cost to make. With a simple greenhouse or indoor unit, you can grow fresh vegetables and fish for your table year round in even the harshest environments. The great thing about Aquaponics systems is that they are essentially self-sustaining. Other than an occasional topping off with water to replace what’s lost through evaporation, you don't have a lot of upkeep. Also, depending on the type of fish you use you can feed some of the vegetable waste to them. Most materials for construction can be salvaged practically free (if not completely free).

I will be building a mid-size system in the following weeks to demonstrate how Aquaponics works. I will provide photos and construction techniques to help you along if you choose to try your hand at it. Mind you, I am just starting out myself, so what mistakes I make will be documented so you don't do the same. I will take this from construction to first harvest of a crop.


--Kevin, OK (Guest Blogger and EE Customer)


Sources & Additional Information:


34 thoughts on “Aquaponic Gardening: What is it? ”

  • Lance Voth

    Please involve the amount of water/fish vs.the amount of plants(and type) as I am using a 275 gallon ibc tote with 7 grow beds and have only sprouted enough plants to fill half of one and my water is so green I can't see the tilapia fry to confirm they're still all alive. Any help or tips on keeping everything in balance before the system is fully functional would be appropriated. Thanks, Lance.

  • Lutie Larsen

    Kevin, I am interested. I will be setting up a system as well. Mine needs to be organic and sustainable and so am looking at integrating aquaponics and chickens too.

  • Ron B.

    What do you feed the fish? The systems I've seen all required some feed, usually pelletized. Can they survive and thrive on produce waste alone?

  • Marilyn Johnston
    Marilyn Johnston April 13, 2014 at 9:33 am

    very interesting. I've know about growing food in water. This could be done when gardening isn't available.

  • m

    Very interesting and enlightening! Looking forward to future posts and progress... thank you for taking on this project and educating the rest of us!

  • Chris

    Can this be done without electricity? I would like to to do this in a green house that is 6"X10"? I live in Va. We can have somewhat cold winters (down to about 25 deg) and warm summers (up to 100 deg).

  • Jay

    I have been pondering my own aquaponics system for some time. I look forward to see your strugles, that I might avoid some of the pitfalles.

  • Sharon

    I will be happily waiting for the instructions to start. I placed an aquarium in my yard last summer and soon had boiling water. I do not know where to get edible fish such as tilapia or which container to use so they would survive the desert heat. Will be waiting to see how you do.

  • Deanne

    I am looking forward to Kevin's updated postings on building a mid-sized aquaponic system. It seems like a great way to impliment a balanced, sustainable system so any insight into the practical application for a novice will be greatly appreciated!


    I have had my system for about 2.5 years and have made my share of mistakes but the enjoyment I have recieved in return has been well worth it. Plus my Grandfather (A farmer from way back) has been so jealous of my tomatoes I have been enjoying all winter we just assembled his 10x12 greenhouse. I have not been able to talk him into Aquaponics yet but give me another month and we will see.

  • Lance Allison

    Question a friend of the Family back in the 1960s had a fish farm in Coconut Grove long before the Condos where can I get what we called bath tubs it was three ft. wide six ft. long about 3 ft. high the fish eggs / hatchings started there the items was at the ACE Hard wear stores had them for years in stainless steal but in the 1980s it was All Aluminum

  • Brian Dewar

    I have a small back yard. Like 12x15 is big enough? .

  • Mark

    You stated that you will build a mid-sized system, how many people are you planning on feeding with this system?

  • Danny Murphy

    I am 100 % disabled. I would like to have a project that I could do on my own, and one that would supply my wife and me with fresh fish and vegetables. I have about six months of basic food storage (wheat, rice, beans, oats, etc), and several #10 cans of freeze dried vegetables, but almost nothing in the meat protein arena. I read an article on this procedure several months back, but nothing on how to construct a unit. Due to my fixed income status, money is a concern to me. I am anxious to follow your progress and over all costs. Thank you.

  • Andrea

    I'm excited to watch/see/learn! Great work, Kevin!

  • Beverley Waldon
    Beverley Waldon April 13, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    Thank you for this very important information

  • Patricia dowden
    Patricia dowden April 13, 2014 at 5:47 pm

    Ken Kern Wrote a book on how to make a hill into a farm: had fish at bottom of that hill in similar relationship . Rofht after WW. II the Philipines needed help to get back on their feet amd grown their onw food again after terribke war.

  • F. McMillan

    Thanks for an interesting article. I look forward to seeing your progress.

  • John Lamont West
    John Lamont West April 13, 2014 at 10:17 pm

    I look forward to reading about your experience. I may even consider a small set up here in Southern Texas if your experiment works.

  • Michael

    I've been researching this subject for a few months now myself, Kevin. I'm looking forward to seeing your trials. Are you In Oklahoma? What part?

  • Wm Barry Turner
    Wm Barry Turner April 14, 2014 at 2:44 am

    I have been looking into aquaponics for awhile now and my issue is, "are there any 12 volt pumps out there that have sustainable life?"

    12 volt grow lights are fairly good now, but everywhere I look, all I can find are 110 volt pumps.

  • HD Crum

    Thanks I'll like to see how it goes for you.

  • DE Clark

    I have been investigating aquaponics and look forward to additional information and experimentation.

  • randfan

    I look forward to your entire series on aquaponics.

  • Martha in Pasadena, Calif.
    Martha in Pasadena, Calif. April 14, 2014 at 12:05 pm

    Kevin, this was very interesting. I'm looking forward to your next article.
    I can imagine the delight you are having setting up your system. I have 7 gold fish in my aquaponics tank and we're enjoying fresh lettuce from our vertical, grow towers.
    Could you post photos with your next piece? Thanks ever so much for making the time to share this with us.

  • chris

    I live it the northeast, please address the climate conditions and possible solutions

  • Tami

    I have been working one day a week at an aquaponic green house in North Central, TX. I am learning a lot! Best advice I can give to anyone is to go and help someone who is all ready doing this! I hope on getting my set up started this spring/summer.


    Now in Houston Tx but will put this to use in Mexico in an expat community

  • Kevin

    Lance, the ratio of water to fish I use is 1pound of fish (at full growth ) to 10 gallons of water. The plants are up to you... We use everything from onoins, carrots, and tomatoes to green beans , lettuce, and broccoli! You need to have as many plants as possible to scrub the amonia and nitrates from the water before it returns to the fish tank. Also reducing sunlight to the fish tank will help control the algae blooms. Hope that helps!

  • Deborah White

    Kevin is my husband and I am so proud of him!! I can't wait until we get our complete system finished!!!

  • Kathy Ann

    Where are you going to keep your setup? Seems like it would be too smelly for the house. Is it possible to do this in a climate that ranges from zero degrees Fahrenheit in the winter to 110 degrees in summer?

  • Kevin

    I am going to try to answer all of your questions as best I can shortly! Unfortunately my desk top computer is down so I am having to do everything on my phone lol! Lance V. , also try using at least a dozen earth worms im each of your grow beds to convert the fish waste into nitrates to boost the efficiency along with yor plants. If your drain is set at the right height, they will come up to the surface and not drown between cycles. I will have to answer the rest of everyones posts in another post here momentarily as I get them written down on paper lol! Please bear with me as I am a little slow!

  • Kevin

    Ron B. I use both catfish and Hybrid Bluegills and feed a pelleted feed. If using Tilapia, you can feed plant scraps or grow duckweed in the fish tank which they love!

    Marilyn J. My system is used in a greenhouse for year round production!

    Chris. My system is designed as off the grid. A small solar panel is used to charge batteries for the 12 v water pump and a small wood stove and propane heater for heat as needed. We have about the same climate, -20 to 110 F. I will be building a wood fired steam boiler to provide both heat and generate electricity shortly!

    Sharon. In desert regions you will need a shelter using shade cloth to keep fish tank cooler. Tilapia and other edible fish can be ordered online, get a type that tolerates heat well.

    Lance A. You can get almost any type of tank you need from Lowe's etc. in the livestock section.

    Brian D. The great thing about Aquaponics is that you can build to fit what space you have available! Vertical grow towers would work well for you!

    Mark. My greenhouse is 19'x19'x9' high. It will feed a family of four using 20 half barrel growbeds with enough left over to preserve and have plenty to barter for needed items.

    Danny M. I had a massive heart attack back in December of 2013 and am also currently disabled. Almost all of the materials I am using have been gathered free or almost free thru barter and hauling away scrap materials. I will post a total cost at the end of the series.

    Michael. I am in the far Northeast corner of Oklahoma near the Kansas/Mo border.

    Wm. Barry T. I use a 12v agriculture pump from Atwoods farm supply. A battery bank and power inverter supply electric for the system and is solar panel charged at the moment. I am building a small wind generator and wood fired steam boiler to provide heat and electric . All of my projects are off the grid.

    Martha in CA. Pics are coming in the follow up posts!

    Chris in the N.E. The climate solutions are coming in the rest of this series. I grow year round with winters reaching -20F and Summers up to 110F!

    Kathy Ann. I built an outdoor 4 season greenhouse. A small indoor system is just like having an aquarium, the only smell is from the fresh veggies growing! My climate range is -20 to 110F

    I hope this answers most of your questions and is helpful! Now if you will excuse me, I need a nap now lol!

  • Casino

    This website certainly has all thee info I needwd about this subject and didn't know
    who too ask.

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